Notre Dame, Cal, and Stanford began the 2002 football season with new head coaches, new attitude, new enthusiasm and some high-profile veterans at the so-called skill positions.
Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, at least at this moment, that's where the similarity ends. That, and the fact that each program seems to have turned their football fortunes around. In Stanford's case, however, this was not exactly the mandate.
It must, of course, always be noted that circumstances in this schoolboy game have a way of changing capriciously and unpredictably.While we remain in a state of watchful waiting when it comes to the Teevens regime, a.k.a. "Buddy Ball" (and how regrettably premature was it to hang your marketing hat on that little piece of branding?) we are nonetheless thunderstruck by comparisons to the situations in South Bend and Berkeley. Seems like only yesterday Stanford partisans were doing their little superior dance, a-la Dana Carvey's Church Lady, on what they gleefully derided and ridiculed as the grave of Cal football. Grave?The Big Game this year could be grave, all right, but not exactly in the way Stanford fans had it handicapped last August.
Meanwhile, there's former Stanford mentor Tyrone Willingham, the toast of South Bend, the subject of national acclaim, "I Love Ty" stay-dry tee shirts worn by Irish co-eds, and a candidate for an audience with the Pope. Think we're kidding> It's just a matter of time before some Photoshop™ hacker burns Tyrone's sunglassed likeness onto the face of Touchdown Jesus and gives it a worldwide Internet ride.
What causes legions of Stanford fans to reach for their Rolaids this week is the glaring and undeniable dissimilarity between the situations at Stanford – and the ones at ND and Cal. You can't sweep it under any rugs lying around at Arrillaga Center that the new coaching administration on the Farm inherited a program in much sounder shape than the one encountered by Willingham when he and his entourage punched in last winter. Or the one across the Bay that Jeff Tedford found when he arrived fresh from Eugene. Stanford football had achieved a certain level of discipline, pride and respectability. It wasn't about to overshadow tennis, perhaps, but football was clearly poised for the next step up in national prominence.
There's a piece of NFL Film footage, the Steve Sabol-signature video eye candy, with those sonorous intonations by famous "voice o'God" Frank Facenda, that gets a lot of air time on ESPN. It usually pops on during those hours of insomnia when we surf for something of sporting interest. It's the one where Vince Lombardi, in one of his controlled rages, bellows from the sideline, colorfully fed up with the proceedings underway on the field.
"What the hell," Lombardi inquires in his patented you-better-listen-up-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you tone of voice, "is goin' on out there?!!!"
Whether his considerable ire at that moment is directed at his offense, defense, special teams, a wayward streaker, or lapse in diligent officiating, is unclear. You just know Mr. Lombardi has just seen something he wants to get fixed, like, right away.
And so, in the same inquiring-mind spirit of the legendary king of the frozen tundra, as we enter this second week of October, a vaguely similar thought occurs to us as we reflect on the state of football at Leland Stanford Junior University:
What, indeed, is going on out there?
Mindful that the game played at Stanford Stadium is a whole lot closer to frozen yogurt than frozen tundra, we'll dispense with any further comparisons for the simple reason that there really aren't any. But Lombardi's frustration, in its way, differs only by a matter of degree from the feelings of a whole lot of Stanford loyalists right about now. What, they rightfully ask, a month into a season that is losing luster faster than the silverware at a trailer-park yard sale, is going on out there? Seems like a reasonable question.
Stan DeVaughn is editor-in-chief of The Bootleg Magazine. This article will also be published on Saturday in the Palo Alto Daily News special Stanford Football 2002 Section. If you have not seen it, make sure to pick up a copy before the game on Saturday. Palo Alto Daily News is available for free everywhere in the greater Palo Alto area...